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Monday, April 20, 2015

Strategic CSR - Philanthropy

The article in the url below is an interview with a philosopher who believes in a more radical approach to philanthropy:
"In his new book, The Most Good You Can Do, to be released on Tuesday, Mr. Singer argues that people should give a substantial percentage—ideally a third—of their income to charities. Mr. Singer himself has given away at least 10% of his income for 40 years; that number has gradually risen to between a quarter and a third of his income. He advocates focusing donations on the developing world."
The philosopher who is being interviewed, Peter Singer, is more popularly known for his work advocating for the extension of human rights to animals and the environment, but in his new book (the reason for the interview), he focuses squarely on human behavior towards our fellow human beings:
"A scholar with appointments at Princeton University and the University of Melbourne, Mr. Singer, 68, considers himself a utilitarian philosopher. … [His reason for writing the book is] to change how we think about what it means to be ethical. 'If you ask people what it means to live ethically, it's a 'Thou shalt not' statement: 'You shouldn't cheat' and 'You shouldn't lie,'' he says. 'But if you're fortunate enough to be part of the more affluent billion in the world, to live ethically, you have to do something to help those who are less fortunate, who just happened to have been born in impoverished countries, and that's part of living an ethical life.'"
His argument, in essence, is that any $1 donated should be directed towards supporting action that generates the most benefit for the greatest number of people. As a result, he thinks we should turn our attention away from many of the 'philanthropic causes' currently supported in the West towards helping those in greatest need:
"Peter Singer would sooner donate a kidney than sponsor a concert hall. So when entertainment mogul David Geffen gave $100 million in early March for the renovation of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York—it will soon be renamed David Geffen Hall—Mr. Singer questioned why people thought he was doing so much good. … Mr. Singer says that he doesn't understand 'how anyone could think that giving to the renovation of a concert hall that could impact the lives of generally well-off people living in Manhattan and well-off tourists that come to New York could be the best thing that you could do with $100 million.' He notes, for example, that a donation of less than $100 could restore sight to someone who is blind."
On the face of it, it is hard to argue with the sentiment that the ability to restore someone's sight should outweigh the opportunity to listen to the opera (which, after all, most people in developed economies choose not to do). My sense, however, is that Singer is missing the point. Rather than focus on the intention behind the donation, it is essential to focus on the delivery of that aid. In other words, what is the most effective way of harnessing the desire to restore sight and then achieving the desired outcome? This speaks to the larger issue of philanthropy and, in this case, developmental aid – in essence, how can we ensure that the $100 that I might donate goes towards restoring the sight of someone in need? In reality, we know that corruption and inefficiencies are a big part of NGO aid delivery. Also, many suspect that progress sponsored by others is less sustainable than progress achieved through personal effort. In attempting to overcome these concerns and ensuring more optimal outcomes, an important question revolves around the role of market forces. From what is covered in the interview, however, Singer appears to ignore these questions in place of emphasizing individual guilt. It is effective in capturing attention for his ideas (and, presumably, selling more books). I am less convinced that it will help bring about the goals he advocates, which we can all agree are worthwhile.
Take care
David Chandler & Bill Werther
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Weekend Confidential: Peter Singer
By Alexandra Wolfe
April 4-5, 2015
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final